Chronic Sinusitis Update

The term “chronic sinusitis” is defined as an inflammation of the sinus or sinuses lasting more than 12 weeks in duration. The inflammation can be of any etiology however it is implied and commonly agreed upon that infection is the primary cause of chronic sinusitis. In order to understand chronic sinusitis, it is important to know the anatomy of a sinus. A sinus is a cavity in any organ or tissue, but in reference to allergies, it is a cavity in the skull and often referred to a “paranasal sinuses.” There are 4 paired sinuses in the cranial bones. They are named for their location with regards to the head and face. The names of the sinuses include the frontal, ethmoid, sphenoid, and maxillary sinuses. The frontal sinuses are located in the forehead region above the eyes. The ethmoid sinuses are situated between the eyes on each side of the upper nose. The sphenoid sinuses are positioned behind the eyes and bridge of the nose and lie in the deeper areas of the cranium. The maxillary sinuses are located on either side of the nostrils in the cheekbone areas.

The symptoms of inflammation of the sinuses or a chronic sinus infection may include a sinus headache, facial pressure or pain, post-nasal drip, discolored nasal secretions, cough and/or fatigue. It should be noted that it is not uncommon for an individual to present with just a chronic cough without many additional sinus symptoms. The diagnosis of chronic sinusitis requires a comprehensive and physical examination. There is often a history of onset of the infection as well as a progression of specific symptoms which may help diagnose the sinus infection. In some instances, sinus X-rays and/or CT scans of the sinuses may be helpful in the diagnosis.

The treatment of chronic sinusitis varies depending upon how severe the symptoms are in each individual patient. Oral antibiotics are the most common treatment however a longer course of antibiotics is usually prescribed due to the chronicity of the infection. It is not uncommon to treat these patients with 30 days of continuous oral antibiotics. Topical corticosteroids [e.g., Flonase (fluticasone), Nasonex (mometasone), Nasacort AQ (triamcinolone), Rhinocort (budesonide), Qnasl (beclomethasone), Nasarel (flunisolide), Zetonna (ciclesonide), (Xhance (fluticasone)] are sometimes useful in the local treatment of bacterial infections.  The effects are usually short-lived however. The nasal corticosteroids are not currently recommended for routine use; however, they offer the potential for improved directed treatment of the sinuses. Saline irrigation or saline nasal strays are useful in the mechanical clearance of allergens, irritants, and microorganisms (i.e., bacteria, viruses) from the nasal and sinus cavities.  Saline irrigation is an inexpensive and easy to use method of “cleaning” the nasal and sinus cavities. It is often used in conjunction with other treatments such as nasal corticosteroids and oral antibiotics to treat chronic sinusitis. It should be noted that some individuals do not like saline irrigation as it may cause some discomfort in the nasal or sinus passages. Topical antibiotics are sometimes useful in the local treatment of bacterial infections. As with nasal corticosteroids, the effects are usually short-lived and topical antibiotics are not currently recommended for routine use; however, they offer the potential for improved directed treatment of the sinuses.

Occasionally, a more aggressive treatment regimen for chronic sinusitis is necessary and other medications are then utilized. Oral corticosteroids are implemented in more severe or recalcitrant cases. Oral corticosteroids reduce inflammation and are particularly useful for shrinking nasal polyps, though they also may result in the multisystem improvement of symptoms.  Nasal polyps (i.e., nasal polyposis) are soft, benign growths that develop from the lining of the sinuses and nasal cavity. Approximately 4-5% of the general population has nasal polyps.  Nasal polyps cause increased nasal congestion and may block the normal drainage pattern of the sinuses. As a result, sinus infections are more likely to develop in these individuals. It should be pointed out that oral corticosteroids carry a risk for significant systemic side effects such as weight gain, peptic ulcers, cataract formation, thinning of one’s bones, depression, and/or endocrine dysfunction. They should be used judiciously and only for brief periods of time. In addition to oral corticosteroids, biological medications [i.e., Dupixent (dupilumab)] are being used more often to treat chronic sinusitis with nasal polyps. Biological medications can offer targeted and more effective treatment than other therapies.  The potential advantages of biological medications include the reduced need for oral or topical corticosteroids as well as the need for sinus surgery. A few of these biological agents [i.e., Xolair (omalizumab), Fasenra (benralizumab), Nucala (mepolizumab), Dupixent (dupilumab)] are currently being used for the control of asthma but only one of them, Dupixent (dupilumab) has been approved for chronic sinusitis with nasal polyps.

Prevention is always the goal in any malady if at all possible. For chronic sinusitis, preventive measures include the identification of specific allergen sensitivities and the subsequent avoidance or preventive treatment for these allergies. Allergy testing should be done by skin testing or blood testing. Aggressive treatment of any seasonal or perennial allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever) promotes proper sinus drainage and as a result improves upper airway function. Allergy immunotherapy (i.e., allergy shots, allergy injections, allergy desensitization, allergy hyposensitization) is a very effective tool to treat allergies and asthma as it works in 80-85% of patients that take them. The average treatment length of allergy shots is typically 3-5 years.

The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy treat both pediatric and adult patients. We diagnose and treat chronic sinusitis as well as other types of sinus disease, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), allergic conjunctivitis (i.e., eye allergies, asthma, allergic shin disorders [i.e., eczema (i.e., atopic dermatitis), hives (i.e., urticaria), generalized itching (i.e., pruritus), swelling episodes (i.e., angioedema), poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak], anaphylaxis, food allergies, medication allergies, insect sting allergies, eosinophilic esophagitis, mast cell disorders, and immunological disorders. We have offices in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA. All 3 of our offices have on-site parking. The Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible and the McLean, VA office has a free shuttle that runs between our office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line. You may also click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day. Black & Kletz Allergy has been a fixture in the greater Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area for over 50 years for our outstanding services for the diagnosis and management of allergic, asthmatic, and immunological conditions.